Blood on the Pumpkin
Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickenderfer-Black in October, 2013
Bobby held the folded orange construction paper tight enough to wrinkle it, all concentration on the wide, black arc drawn on the outside edges. He bit down on his full lower lip, trying to steady the tremor that rippled through his muscles like a private earthquake.
His mom gently covered his left hand, encouraging the fingers to loosen a bit. She smiled at her son, quietly willing his inspiration and success. “I can do this, Mom,” grumbled the sullen teen. “I know that you can, sweet heart.” She did not even glance at the waste basket filled with discarded earlier attempts, focusing instead on this attempt, now.
At school, Bobby’s little brother, Jack, made a “Five little pumpkins” picture on a construction paper gate, but the glue on one of the five did not do its job, and so there were only four gourds. Jack was bitterly disappointed, so his big brother offered to help. Bobby was determined to keep his promise to replace the missing pumpkin. He pushed on the blue loop safety scissors, snipping along the line.
“Well done,” his mom said, and with concentration, Bobby loosened his fingers for the next cut. He did not push the paper, though, or adjust the scissors, and so the first cut was duplicated, making no further progress. “Remember, you need to move the scissors along your cutting line like a train on a track,” she suggested, hoping to stem another tantrum. Her words had a contrary effect, though. “I am not a baby, Mom!”
“Oh, I know that, but we all need a little assistance now and then, sweetie.” He groused, but after several additional, unsuccessful independent attempts, Bobby allowed her to help steady the paper and guide the progression of the scissors. “Good job,” she murmured, “Keep going!”
Bobby resented that he needed her help, hated his muscles for being so uncooperative or even mutinous. He knew how to do what was needed, but to his frustration, his hands would not comply. His agitation exacerbated the heightened tone in his muscles, which caused them to become even more rigid and less likely to accomplish his wishes.
Shaking and angry, he pushed the scissors vehemently forward. She tried not to exclaim aloud, but the bite was quick and startling, when the surprisingly sharp blades of the safety scissors withdrew from her finger. He looked up, aware that he’d hurt her. “Those are sharper than you would think,” she said, trying to sound relaxed while retreating to the medicine cabinet to dress the bleeding cut. From the restroom, she called, “The glue sticks are on the shelf with the Crayons, Bobby. Perhaps you can get your stem attached,” she suggested.
Bobby did not react, just looked at the irregularly cut semi-circle spotted with his mother’s blood. When she came back a couple of minutes later, two Clifford the Big Red Dog Bandages wrapped around her finger, he had not moved. “Are you okay, honey?” she asked. When he did not respond, she sat in the straight-backed kitchen chair beside him, looking into his frozen face. Relieved that she saw no signs of a seizure, Bobby’s Mom collected for him a glue stick and the crayons. She opened the folded pumpkin. “Here you go,” she said.
He looked up angrily. “It is ruined. You bled on it.”
She swallowed before answering. “You can’t see any blood on this side. Why not put the face pieces that you’ve got there on the unmarked side?”
“Why do you ruin everything?” he spat at her. She looked into his eyes, the brown of woodland creatures so vulnerable. Her gaze slid to the spattering of freckles that covered a nose so like her own. She was not sure if he was blaming her, as he often did, or was berating himself. She took a deep breath before suggesting that it was not ruined.
Those were apparently the wrong words. Bobby’s wide-eyed vulnerability slit into pinched, angry lines. He swung, but she knew to anticipate and stopped his fist before it struck her face. Tears prickled both of their eyes. She hugged him to her chest, firm enough to pin his arms to prevent any further blows. “I love you,” she whispered as he vehemently vented his frustrations, targeting her.
The psychologists to whom the family turned all stated that Bobby’s outbursts were leveled at her because she was safe, the one constant in his turbulent life. She was the person who would not leave despite the abuse. She held on to the thought that he was not truly hating her, but that he was instead a hormone-filled teenager desperate to express the rage caused by being trapped in a dysfunctional body, intellectually unable to process the frustrations. Every slight or joke from peers or neighbors, the stares of strangers in public places, all seemingly shrugged off were privately stored within his subconscious. These hurts became kindling for the fire of melancholy, self-loathing, and pain. With each flare of his temper, these festering infuriating wounds provided a backbone and strength to his acting out.
After a solid many minutes, he at last relaxed in her hug. His mother could feel the tension leave his body, and she relaxed her own tautness. She resumed her seat at the table beside her son, toying with the ragged black construction paper triangles before her. He did not say it, but she could tell that he was embarrassed and sorry. Without looking at his face, she opened the pumpkin shape before him, blood side down. He silently reached for the glue stick and pasted the triangles in place, adding the crescent to his sad jack-o-lantern face.
Jack loved the jack-o-lantern that his big brother crafted. It was an adorable addition to the paper-crafted tableaux. There were no other words exchanged on the subject of crafting, mother and son re-entering a familiar rhythm of acceptance and misunderstanding.